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Taguiwalo rejected as DSWD chief

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo raises a clenched fist during a press conference after the rejection of her nomination by the Commission on Appointments at the Senate yesterday.  GEREMY PINTOLO

 MANILA, Philippines -  She could only speculate on the reasons for the rejection of her appointment, such as her opposition to the pork barrel system and the tax reform package. But social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo said yesterday she would consider it a “badge of honor” because she did her job well and stood up for what she believed was right.

Taguiwalo also vowed to continue serving the people despite her departure from the Cabinet.

Thirteen of the 25-member Commission on Appointments (CA) voted against the confirmation of Taguiwalo, who was named by President Duterte to the Department of Social Welfare and Development in May last year before he assumed office.

A former associate professor at the Department of Women and Development Studies of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Taguiwalo was nominated by the National Democratic Front as one of the leftist representatives to the Cabinet that Duterte wanted to be “inclusive.”

Taguiwalo had been bypassed by the CA twice, the latest being last July 23 when the Senate and the House held a special joint session to approve the extension of martial law in Mindanao.

Aside from the pork barrel issue, she also got embroiled in a controversy when Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III used the phrase “na-ano lang” to describe single mothers like her. Sotto was hit with a barrage of criticisms because of his off the cuff remark during Taguiwalo’s confirmation hearing in May.

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CA committee on labor, employment and social welfare chairman Jose Mayo Almario of Davao Oriental said the votes were cast during an executive session immediately after Taguiwalo’s confirmation hearing was terminated yesterday.

Among the 12 senators who are members of the CA, seven stood up during the plenary session to put on record that they voted to confirm Taguiwalo. These were Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and his fellow Liberal Party (LP) members Francis Pangilinan and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Sonny Angara, Loren Legarda and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Under the rules of the CA, voting is done through secret balloting, so unless its members opt to reveal how they voted, there is no disclosure about this.

It is widely known that the House contingent to the CA votes as a bloc.

Do you hear the people sing?

Militant groups assailed the rejection of Taguiwalo’s appointment and blamed Duterte for not supporting her.

Taguiwalo was the third Cabinet member who failed to hurdle the confirmation process set by the Constitution, the first two being Perfecto Yasay Jr. who was foreign secretary and Gina Lopez as environment chief.

In rejecting Taguiwalo’s appointment, Almario did not provide any concrete reason except that issues and concerns were consistently raised during her confirmation hearings. 

Even though she was advised not to attend yesterday’s plenary session since she was going to be rejected, Taguiwalo opted to attend and listen to the reasons she was rejected by the CA.

In a press briefing held after the plenary session, Taguiwalo said that she was not that surprised by the CA decision but admitted she was disappointed.

“The decision of the CA does not reflect the sentiments of the nation,” she said.

Taguiwalo stressed her background as a left-leaning activist, as well as her strong stance against some policy issues of the administration, could have contributed to her non-confirmation.

She said political interference in the use of funds of the DSWD was something that she rejected and this alienated her from many legislators.

As soon as she stepped in as DSWD secretary, Taguiwalo noted that there were lists of legislators supposedly with funds lodged within the agency.

Taguiwalo said that she took a strong stance against the pork barrel fund and in relation to this, issued a memorandum circular clarifying that referrals from legislators are not needed for people to avail themselves of the services of the DSWD.

She said there was a debate on whether the legislators have funds in the DSWD and she made it clear that as long as there are specific allocations contained in the General Appropriations Act, then there should be no issue.

“But when they were saying that I have funds there, I said there is none. It’s not in the law. If you want us to work together, we can work together. You can suggest and we can work together according to guidelines of DSWD,” Taguiwalo said.

Taguiwalo also made known her position against most of the components of the administration’s comprehensive tax reform program.

Apart from the rationalization of the income tax rates component of the program, Taguiwalo said that she did not agree with the taxes that would have an adverse impact on the masses, such as the excise tax on fuel products.

Taguiwalo said she could only think of these reasons for her rejection because she was able to fulfill her mandate at the DSWD and was not involved in any wrongdoing whatsoever.

“My life has always been devoted to serving the people. Today’s decision of the CA to reject my appointment will in no way deter or distract me from what I know best, serving the people,” she said. 

Just like Lopez, who sang the pop hit “I believe I can fly” when she was rejected by the CA, Taguiwalo said that she also had a song in response to her own rejection.

She said it would be: “Do you hear the people sing?” This was from the musical Les Miserables, which was used as the anthem of the revolution.

Recto, in his speech in support of Taguiwalo, noted that she was someone who truly cares for the welfare of the poor.

“The nominee should not be dismissed as one of the token leftists in the Cabinet. She was not put there as a memento to prove Digong’s (Duterte’s nickname) big tent approach in forming a government. Rather, I believe that she holds the post by virtue of her ability, and not by her affiliation,” Recto said.

“She represents all of us, all our dreams, all our aspirations for our nation, our people and our children. She personifies that elusive political ideal that persons of different persuasions can come together for the common good,” Recto added.

Angara said he was able to work with Taguiwalo when she was still teaching at UP and saw for himself that she was a person with integrity and who truly had the heart for the marginalized.

In a statement, the LP lamented the loss of a committed Cabinet official with the CA’s rejection of Taguiwalo.

“In the 14 months that secretary Taguiwalo was at the helm of the DSWD, we have seen her continue the Aquino administration’s successful conditional cash transfer program which benefited 4.4 million Filipino families,” the LP stated.

“Echoing the Liberal Party position and contrary to the pronouncements of the President and the actions of his allies in Congress, she has also voiced her opposition to lowering the age of criminal liability of minors. It is ironic that the allies of the administration rejected the President’s appointee,” it added.

Saddened

Malacañang lamented Taguiwalo’s rejection as talks swirled that former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro’s wife, Monica Louise or Nikki, would replace her.

But there was no confirmation about Taguiwalo’s replacement.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said they were saddened by the decision as Taguiwalo served the Duterte administration “with passion, profession and integrity.”

Taguiwalo made an impact on the lives of many Filipinos in her tenure as DSWD secretary, the official said.

“The President is now looking and studying for a possible replacement,” Abella added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar vouched for the integrity of Taguiwalo while she headed the department, noting the many sorties he joined during Taguiwalo’s year at DSWD.

“Secretary Judy was a hardworking secretary,” Andanar said, lamenting another “loss” within the President’s official family.

Blame it on Duterte, pork barrel

Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, a member of the House minority bloc,  Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), fishergroup Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), party-list Kabataan, Anakbayan, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela and human rights group Karapatan all bewailed the CA decision.

Most of them expressed belief that Taguiwalo was given the boot because of her refusal to grant the lawmakers’ wish to use the DSWD funds as their pork barrel and that Duterte did not do enough to back her up.

“Truth to tell, Duterte holds a supermajority in Congress and could, if he so wishes, easily push for the confirmation of… Taguiwalo and Agrarian Secretary Rafael Mariano,” Anakbayan national chair Vencer Crisostomo said.

Crisostomo also said Taguiwalo did not compromise her stand against martial law and the peace talks with the communists, which had collapsed.

“No less than the ordinary Filipinos know that secretary Taguiwalo competently serves the people well. Only the narrow circle of pro-pork barrel politicians, economic managers and ex-military generals in the Cabinet want her out because they opt for a traditional corrupt and incompetent social welfare chief so they could continue the tradition of political patronage in social services,” Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said.

Gabriela challenged those who voted against Taguiwalo to reveal their identities.

There was no mention of how she was handling the social impact of the drug war and the Marawi City crisis that has dragged on since hostilities broke out on May 23, among other issues related to the DSWD. 

Before her rejection, Taguiwalo called on fellow social welfare ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to develop models for social protection programs, saying the CCT program was not the solution to poverty.

“How do we wean governments out of cash transfer solutions? This is the P80 billion and increasing question that we at the DSWD are grappling with,” Taguiwalo said.

“With this amount, we can provide free college education, irrigation and yet here we are, looking for ways to pay for cash transfer through tax increases,” she added.   – With Christina Mendez, Elizabeth Marcelo, Janvic Mateo, Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla, Mayen Jaymalin, Rainier Allan Ronda

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